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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
 
1. Questions to the Minister for Finance and Government Business
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Finance and Government Business, and question 1 is Mohammad Asghar.
 
The Public Services Portfolio
 
13:30
Mohammad AsgharBiography
1. What discussions has the Minister had regarding the budget allocation to the public services portfolio? OAQ(4)0655(FIN)
 
13:30
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
I held discussions with many people regarding public services, and the outcomes are reflected in the draft budget, ‘Fairer, Better Wales—Investing for the Future’, which I published on 8 December.
 
13:30
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Recent figures have revealed that three of the top 10 areas of the United Kingdom that have the highest concentration of asylum seekers are in Wales. Swansea was sixth, Newport eighth, and Cardiff ninth, of the top 10 in the country. What consideration was given to the pressure on local authorities’ budgets created by supporting asylum seekers in Wales when allocating funding through the public services portfolio?
 
13:31
Jane HuttBiography
Well, the Welsh Government funds the third sector in Wales to support refugees and asylum seekers through the equality and inclusion grant. Around £904,000 has been made available to the Welsh Refugee Council, the British Red Cross and the Trinity Centre over three years. And, in addition, Cardiff and Swansea local authorities have used their Supporting People programme grant to provide housing-related support for people with a refugee status.
 
The Welsh Government Budget
 
13:31
Peter BlackBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of the Welsh Government’s budget on South Wales West? OAQ(4)0658(FIN)
 
13:31
Jane HuttBiography
Our spending plans set out in ‘Fairer, Better Wales—Investing for the Future’ meet the needs of the people of Wales, including South Wales West.
 
13:32
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. You know, of course, in addition to the second campus by Swansea University, and the proposed second campus for Trinity St David, Neath Port Talbot College are also looking to expand and have a second campus. Can I ask you what capital is available in the budget to help the further education sector with these sorts of aspirations?
 
13:32
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I think you would be very pleased, I’m sure, with the announcements not only last week in the supplementary budget for this year, putting more money into twenty-first century schools, which actually includes money for FE as well, but also with the capital announcements that I made for the next financial year, which, of course, also, as part of the £120 million, includes funding for not only twenty-first schools, but the FE sector.
 
13:32
David ReesBiography
Minister, the announcement of over 1,000 job losses by Tata and the establishment of a taskforce by the Welsh Government actually took place after the publication of the draft budget in December. The budget yesterday was approved, but can you actually tell us whether you are putting funding aside to support the taskforce and its ambitions to support those who are losing their jobs and local investment? And have you had discussions with the Treasury in relation to their financial support for the taskforce?
 
13:33
Jane HuttBiography
I thank David Rees for that question. The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport updated Members, of course, last week in her oral statement on the second meeting of the Tata Steel taskforce and the actions that are being taken. As the Minister outlined, all four of the work streams have developed key initial actions that need to be taken forward. That includes the provision of a one-stop shop for support and advice to employees and the development of an enterprise zone submission. But we’re also, as the Minister explained, in discussions with the UK Government in terms of potential for enhanced capital allowances, and we’ll continue to press the case with the UK Government for accessing funding under the European globalisation adjustment fund. But also, as far as my role is concerned, I’m also meeting Commissioner Thyssen, from the European Commission, next month, to discuss these matters in Brussels, including any support that the European Commission may provide.
 
13:34
Suzy DaviesBiography
Minister, your draft budget shows a cut of almost £7 million to the flood protection budget. Considering the unprecedented weather that we’ve experienced so far this year, with heavy rain and winds of up to 100 mph in places like Porthcawl, what information did you have from the Minister for Natural Resources about the impact such a cut would have on the safety of my constituents, their homes and their businesses?
 
13:34
Jane HuttBiography
Well, the Welsh Government received £10.7 million in consequential funding in 2015-16 from the UK Government in response to the flood damage, for example, caused by storm Desmond and storm Eva. We’ve already announced £2.3 million for maintenance schemes and emergency repairs across Wales, and £0.5 million for A55 flood drainage improvement works, and, indeed, £1.9 million for the A55 Talybont flood alleviation scheme. Since 2011, we’ve also committed £300 million, including European funding, to manage flood risk and with an additional £150 million we’re investing in coastal risk management from 2018.
 
13:35
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, yesterday I raised with you the concerns of those in Swansea, whereby the council has removed funding for music services, and they were in a contract with Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, who have said that they will retain that service. But, how feasible it will be for them to be able to do so without that funding from Swansea is to be questioned. Minister, this has come before the budget has even reached local authorities. What will you be doing in conjunction with the task and finish group that the Minister recently put forward on music to make sure that this does not go ahead?
 
13:35
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course the Welsh Local Government Association and, indeed, all the local authorities were very pleased that I managed to deliver a budget that had a far lower cut than was originally anticipated: an average of 1.4 per cent. So, now, and, indeed, as the budget was passed yesterday, providing more certainty to local authorities in terms of their budget setting process, of course, they will be, I’m sure, taking account of the outcomes of that task group in terms of music education, which, of course, was led by the Minister.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:36
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions by the party spokespeople and, first this afternoon, Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Alun Ffred Jones.
 
13:36
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Thank you very much. Can you give us further details about the changes to the draft budget that were announced yesterday? We welcome the additional funding for the higher education sector, of course. Of that £31 million that has been returned to the HEFCW budget, can you tell us where this funding will come from, whether that be the reserves, or, if it’s not from reserves, from which budget will it come?
 
13:37
Jane HuttBiography
I can assure the Member, Alun Ffred Jones, that this will come from reserves.
 
13:37
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Thank you very much. And the same question—and perhaps you explained this yesterday: in terms of the funding for local authorities, namely the £2.5 million to assist those that were hardest hit by cuts, where is that funding coming from? Is that from reserves or from another budget?
 
13:37
Jane HuttBiography
Yes, that is from reserves as well and, of course, it is being allocated as a specific grant to those three local authorities.
 
13:37
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Thank you. In responding to your comments yesterday, the pledge to build a critical care centre in Torfaen, in Llanfrechfa as I understand it, was welcomed, and it appears that the cost of that will be some £500 million. Can you tell us what the expenditure profile for this scheme is and how it will impact on the capital budget within the health service over the next few years?
 
13:38
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course, as part of my budget for 2016-17 I also announced, yesterday, a further £120 million in capital allocations. But, of course, the allocations in the pipeline as part of the Wales infrastructure investment plan include those allocations—those priorities set by Ministers in terms of their departmental allocations—and the updated pipeline was, indeed, published as part of my capital announcements.
 
13:38
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Nick Ramsay.
 
13:38
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, the devolution of tax powers in 2018 will be a huge development for the Assembly and, in many ways, unchartered territory. What is certain is that for every tax that is devolved, the block grant funding to us will be reduced. What discussions have you had with the Treasury regarding the formula that will be used to calculate these reductions?
 
13:39
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I thank Nick Ramsay for that question. I have, of course, been engaged in discussions in terms of fair funding for our budget for the last six years as finance Minister and, of course, we welcome the fact that a funding floor was announced by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor last year. But, of course, what we have in terms of that commitment does fall short of delivering fair funding over the long term, because the floor is set only for the course of the Parliament.
 
13:39
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Minister, and I also welcome the Barnett floor, but I was actually asking you about changes that will happen to the block grant because of the devolution of tax powers. Minister, while the initial reductions in the first year should be straightforward, future reductions will have to be indexed to economic growth and inflation or the Welsh Government budget could be subject to a new Barnett squeeze, but this time at the taxation end of the formula rather than the spending end. What form of indexing have you argued for with the Treasury?
 
13:40
Jane HuttBiography
Well, you’re quite right, Nick Ramsay, that we have to negotiate the offset to our block grant as a result of the devolution of those taxes that will come in April 2018. Now, it’s very interesting that the Scottish Government is still debating and negotiating the offset to their block grant, and, of course, I am working with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to ensure that we have a fiscal framework for Wales that can clearly identify those offsets, and clearly identify those against those wider needs. And I do again call on the fact that we do need to ensure that our block grant, in terms of the Barnett formula, is secured in a fair way with the funding floor.
 
13:40
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Minister. I quite agree that joint agreement on this area is absolutely crucial for tax devolution to succeed. Do you agree with me that any indexing of block grant reductions needs to be per capita, and could you tell us a little bit more about the progress that you’ve made in agreeing a fiscal framework over the longer term, to ensure that reductions in block grant funding are proportionate to the level of tax being levied in Wales so that we do not end up out of pocket?
 
13:41
Jane HuttBiography
Again, I’m very grateful for the question from Nick Ramsay, the opposition finance spokesperson, because it’s clearly important. I went to the chief secretary before Christmas, in our last meeting, to say, ‘I have got cross-party backing for my negotiations; cross-party backing for a fiscal framework.’ It can’t be just a one-off; it has to be a long-term fiscal framework, and it has to include that appropriate indexing, as you say, and ensure that we do have the offsetting of our block grant appropriate to our needs.
 
13:42
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
And now the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
13:42
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, following on from those questions from Nick Ramsay, the press reports that the obstacle between the UK Treasury and the Scottish Government around these negotiations centres on the no-detriment principle, which the Treasury appears to be reluctant to agree to. Can I ask: is this a principle that you’re also taking forward in your talks with the Treasury, and what reaction have you had to putting that proposal to them?
 
13:42
Jane HuttBiography
Again, we not only learn lessons, but ensure that we don’t fall into the same traps in terms of the Scottish Government, in terms of their negotiations, and, of course, this principle is very important to us in terms of no detriment.
 
13:42
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister, but you haven’t made it clear whether or not this is a principle that the Treasury are open to hearing from you. The Scottish Government reckon that, without this principle in place, they will lose £3 billion over 10 years. Have you made any similar calculations as to what our loss would be on the limited taxes that we currently have access to if the Treasury don’t agree a no-detriment principle in negotiations with us?
 
13:43
Jane HuttBiography
We’re very clear, again, in terms of the no-detriment principle. It is very early days, I would say, in terms of those negotiations, and the negotiations at the moment are still very much focused around the fact that we are seeking a long-term inter-governmental agreement, as Nick Ramsay said, in terms of our fiscal framework, and, as we move towards the devolution of those taxes in April 2018, this is going to be the key point and purpose of our negotiations.
 
13:43
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you. My concern, Minister, is that Scotland appears to have more clout than we do with the Treasury, and if they can’t shift the Treasury on this particular principle, then what chance do we have? Are you working with the Scottish Government to try to put joint pressure on the Treasury in relation to this, and maybe with Northern Ireland as well, to ensure that the Treasury understands that this is a fundamental point in terms of those negotiations?
 
13:44
Jane HuttBiography
I think that’s a very fair point. What is very disappointing is that we have not had a finance quadrilateral—that’s within our devolution settlement and code—since November 2013. And, as the finance Ministers for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, we met indeed last year. We called for a quadrilateral to, exactly, as you say, press on these points of joint interest, and not only, of course, these points, but there are many other issues that we’re concerned about trilaterally, such as, for example, the apprenticeship levy and the implications of that, and the lack of recognition of devolution in terms of those impacts.
 
We have our own joint Exchequer committee process. The only time that has met was when Danny Alexander was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and that was back in 2015 that we met. So, at the moment, the devolution engagement, and indeed respect for devolution, in terms of those negotiations and relationships, is not there. Again, I welcome cross-party support here in this Chamber to ensure that we can move forward on this and to demonstrate that we, as a Welsh Government, backed by our National Assembly, have got the clout with Treasury.
 
13:45
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper, and question 3 is from Keith Davies.
 
The Welsh Procurement Policy Statement
 
13:45
Keith DaviesBiography
3. Will the Minister provide an update on the progress of the Welsh procurement policy statement? OAQ(4)0659(FIN)[W]
 
13:45
Jane HuttBiography
Mae’r datganiad polisi wedi ei fabwysiadu’n eang ar draws y sector cyhoeddus yng Nghymru ac mae’n sicrhau manteision gwirioneddol, gan greu swyddi a hyfforddiant a chynyddu cyfleoedd i gwmnïau a leolwyd yng Nghymru.
 
13:46
Keith DaviesBiography
We will hopefully soon see the work starting to use the tidal lagoon technology in Swansea bay. What can the Welsh Government do to promote the use of steel from the UK in these major infrastructure projects that are in the pipeline now?
 
13:46
Jane HuttBiography
Clearly, Keith Davies, we do hope that we can benefit from the proposed Swansea bay tidal lagoon and ensure that the decisions are made by the UK Government to move this forward in terms of the opportunities. And then, of course, it can ensure that we can take every opportunity in terms of contracts to source steel products.
 
13:46
Paul DaviesBiography
Minister, it’s essential that the Welsh Government does all it can to support our farmers in tendering for public sector contracts. I appreciate that, last year, the National Procurement Service brought the procurement of food within its scope and was developing a food strategy. Therefore, can you provide us with an update on this food strategy and can you tell us how the Welsh Government is ensuring that there are robust supplier selection procedures in place for food contracts across Wales so that Welsh farmers don’t miss out on these contracts?
 
13:47
Jane HuttBiography
The NPS has already established itself. It already has 30 live contracts and frameworks as of 1 February, as far as the NPS is concerned. It has awarded six contracts and frameworks in other areas such as managed service, employee benefit schemes, supply of biomass fuels, all-Wales printing services and facilities management. So, clearly, the fact that the NPS is up and running and clearly delivering on those contracts and frameworks will also apply to the all-important food procurement contracts.
 
13:48
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
In the Chamber yesterday, the First Minister rejected my suggestion that we should legislate in order to increase the percentage of public contracts that are awarded to Welsh companies. The truth is that the Welsh Government is saying the right things very often on procurement but failing to secure effective action across the public sector. That’s why Plaid Cymru would legislate in this area. But another issue that needs to be addressed is procurement capacity across the public sector. Can the Minister tell us how the Government’s budget allows investment in capacity building and expertise?
 
13:48
Jane HuttBiography
In thanking you for that question, I would say that our Wales procurement policy statement has been greatly strengthened now by the new powers that we have to regulate on procurement matters in Wales. Of course, this will lead to regulation rather than advice notes and guidance and officials now are working to develop community benefits as the first area of regulation. So, I think you will see that difference in terms of the strength of those new powers. Of course, you’re right to say that consistency and, indeed, delivering on capacity in procurement are crucial. That is something where we not only have the European social fund to support us in building up procurement capability; the Home Grown Talent project saw 28 trainees helping their host organisations save in excess of £7 million.
 
Welsh-made Products
 
13:49
Bethan JenkinsBiography
4. How much Welsh made products have been procured in relation to Welsh Government-awarded construction and infrastructure projects over the term of the fourth Assembly? OAQ(4)0657(FIN)
 
13:49
Jane HuttBiography
We’re analysing contract pipelines to provide a picture of future requirements for Welsh-made products. For example, the Heads of the Valleys road scheme delivered 84 per cent spend with Welsh business.
 
13:50
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Thank you for that one specific answer there. I was trying to understand how many contracts have been awarded by Welsh Government to Welsh steelmakers in the last five years and what value this represents. I think it would aid people in my area, especially now with potential job losses at Tata, to understand fully how best the Welsh Government can utilise the steel that is produced there. I appreciate the procurement group is up and running with the taskforce, but perhaps if we had some figures, it might help those people understand better.
 
13:50
Jane HuttBiography
It’s a very important part of the steel taskforce, which I’ve already been responding to, that it’s interrogating future procurement pipelines, including the Wales infrastructure investment plan, to ensure that construction and infrastructure-related tendering opportunities are known and visible to Welsh business. And, of course, the Welsh Government is clearly involved, not just in terms of the steel taskforce, but also with the UK Government in terms of procurement opportunities. Procurement does play a very important opportunity in addressing some of the issues facing construction and steel suppliers in the current market. I would expect contracting authorities in Wales to use procurement as a lever to reduce those barriers to those suppliers bidding for public contracts.
 
13:51
David ReesBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. It’s very important that we ensure that public contracts are actually used to the benefit of our Welsh industries. But on that point, beyond the steel are also industries that service the steel, in particular, Fairwood fabrications, for example, which are losing 100 employees as a consequence of the loss of contracts with Tata, and their skills can be used in infrastructure projects. Will you ensure that procurement rules also look at the subcontractors to ensure that those type of businesses that are also going to struggle, can benefit from procurement rules to allow their skills and workforce to be used in contracts such as this?
 
13:51
Jane HuttBiography
I think the supply chain question is key, David Rees, and, of course, the charter for sustainable British steel is crucial to that in terms of its aims. In fact, my procurement policy statement fully complements the aims of that charter. The adoption of key principles of the Wales procurement policy statement is to open up supply chain opportunities for Wales-based businesses, and that’s why we’re supporting this procurement stream, as I’ve said, of the taskforce established by Edwina Hart.
 
13:52
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
In relation to the procurement of steel, in particular around public sector contracts, there is a campaign, obviously, that has been campaigning for some time around the use of British standard steel in particular, and making sure that that is a key caveat of the contracts. Are you confident that public sector contracts in Wales are serving the best interest of companies based here in affording them the best opportunity to access the market with British standard product, but above all, have not been undermined by substandard imports that might be coming in at a cheaper price, but have no lifespan equivalent to what the Welsh product might be?
 
13:53
Jane HuttBiography
Well, that, again, in answer to that, the importance, I think, of the charter for sustainable British steel is crucial to this. As I’ve said, the fact that we do have a Wales procurement policy statement actually underpinning the way we contract is crucial—it’s fully complementing, as I said, that charter, and also ensuring that procurement policy is supporting Welsh businesses to access public contracts. Take on board the fact that we have an opportunity here and we have an opportunity with British steel in terms of those contracts.
 
13:53
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, as you’ll know, Celsa in my region produce reinforcing bar for reinforced concrete and not only does it meet the highest British standards, as Andrew R.T. Davies has suggested, but it’s also being undercut by importers of grey imports into the steel market that are not fully traceable. How does the Welsh Government make absolutely sure that none of the steel being used in the Welsh supply chain and public purchasing is a grey import that isn’t fully traceable back to its source?
 
13:54
Jane HuttBiography
I think again, these are very valuable questions. They’re questions that, of course, are being addressed, not just by the taskforce chaired by the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, but also the UK steel procurement working group. And, of course, my officials have also attended three of those four UK Government steel procurement working group meetings. Key outputs from the working group have been the publication of guidance on the procurement of steel in major projects and the development of a growth balance score card to monitor results. We, of course, are in very close discussions, not only with the Cabinet Office about our policies and statement, but also about the fact that we are leading the way in providing intelligent interpretation of the buy local policy.
 
European Funding
 
13:55
Llyr GruffyddBiography
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s use of European funding? OAQ(4)0665(FIN)
 
13:55
Jane HuttBiography
We have invested £455 million of structural funds in 15 months, representing a quarter of our total funding allocation and a total investment of £990 million to support communities, businesses and people across Wales.
 
13:55
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Thank you for that response. I’m sure you’ll be aware of the concern of many people in the agricultural sector in terms of the slow pace within Government in bringing programmes forward to create a more robust and resilient industry under the RDP. There is concern that the numbers that can access the grants, for example the sustainable production grant, is very low. The level of investment required means that many people are excluded in terms of Welsh farms. Now, in accepting that investment needs to be made in a way that strengthens the sector and makes it more sustainable, will you put pressure on the Deputy Minister? As the Minister responsible for taking an overview of European expenditure, will you ensure that there’s a smaller grant scheme introduced as a matter of urgency, in order to see the transformation that we want to see across the sector, rather than just among a small group who actually can get the necessary investment?
 
13:56
Jane HuttBiography
The rural development plan is under way and is open to applications. Indeed, we know, across Wales, that it is not only under way, but also the support that is provided, not only by local authorities and by Welsh Government, but also intermediary bodies, is clearly helping move this forward. What I’m sure you would agree with me on, in terms of your question, Llyr Gruffydd, is thank goodness we have got an EU-funded rural development plan to boost the economy and diversity in our rural communities.
 
13:56
Mick AntoniwBiography
Minister, the Welsh Government used European funding in order to provide the rather fantastic lido facility in Pontypridd in Ynysangharad park. Today, the council announced that, in fact, for the coming year, there are going to be no charges for the use of that facility and that this is intended not only to make the facility more available across the whole of Wales for those who want to use it, but also in order to improve the business opportunities and the footfall, in the town of Pontypridd and assist with the regeneration of the town. Do you agree with me that that is an excellent cross-cutting use of European funding and will you write to the council to congratulate them on their far-sighted decision?
 
13:57
Jane HuttBiography
I certainly agree with Mick Antoniw, the Member for Pontypridd. This is an excellent use of European funding, and I was delighted to officially open the lido last August. I certainly encourage everyone to go and have a swim down there. Maybe you were there on New Year’s Day, I don’t know, but there were certainly many who crowded into the pool and the park. But this is about how we can see, at first hand, a transformation that’s taken place with the support of EU and, indeed, heritage funds and the Welsh Government. I congratulate Rhondda Cynon Taf council for now opening this up as a key destination and tourist facility.
 
13:58
William GrahamBiography
Minister, in the year 2000, Welsh Labour announced that EU funding was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Here we are, nearly 16 years later, with many areas of Wales remaining well within the criteria for structural funding. Would you care to hazard a guess when your Government’s policy will actually lift most of Wales out of its structural problems?
 
13:58
Jane HuttBiography
If you look at how important EU funds are to Wales, and we’ve had a couple of examples already this afternoon, helping us—and I hope you would recognise this, William Graham—helping people into work and training through multi-million-pound apprenticeships, traineeships, Healthy Working Wales, recently announced growing workforces through learning and development, Gwlad, materials and manufacturing education, training and learning, the METaL 2 scheme at Swansea bay, and companies such as Tata Steel—William Graham—the Royal Mint and Oceaneering benefiting from more employee training—. Do I have to continue with the list to demonstrate the importance of EU funding investment levered in by the Welsh Government?
 
Infrastructure Projects
 
13:59
John GriffithsBiography
6. Will the Minister provide details of meetings held with the UK Government regarding the funding of infrastructure projects? OAQ(4)0669(FIN)
 
13:59
Jane HuttBiography
I meet regularly with a wide range of parties to discuss infrastructure investment across Wales, including the UK Government. Last week, I met Lord Adonis, chair of the new National Infrastructure Commission.
 
13:59
John GriffithsBiography
Minister, I think we’ve seen in recent times that countries at the forefront of wind energy reap great benefits from that role of leadership. Wales and the UK now have an opportunity with regard to tidal energy and, personally, I would very much like to see a tidal lagoon in Newport after Swansea and Cardiff and, obviously, there are plans to extend them elsewhere. Would you agree with me that there are great opportunities here to develop manufacturing capacity with the skills, jobs and technology that go along with that, which could then be exported to the rest of the world, but we will only realise these benefits if the UK Government stopped delaying and very quickly now make a commitment to back that project for a tidal lagoon at Swansea, which can then be rolled out elsewhere? And will you continue to urge the Minister to get off the fence and commit to this project as quickly as possible?
 
14:00
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I’m sure that your point, John Griffiths, will be shared across this Chamber in terms of this message to the UK Government. Indeed, we have engaged with the UK Government to ensure that maximum benefit is delivered for the proposed Swansea bay tidal lagoon, and to ensure the longer term UK policy for tidal range. That’s crucial to the UK, and not just for Wales, and reflects Welsh aspirations whilst protecting the environment. I would say, of course, that the Swansea bay tidal lagoon is one of our key Welsh infrastructure investment plan pipeline projects with the potential to bring economic and environmental benefits to Wales, and, of course, it’s the first of six tidal lagoon schemes, four of which are located in Wales, and Tidal Lagoon Powers identify the next phase of two lagoons to be located at Cardiff and Newport.
 
14:01
William GrahamBiography
The Circuit of Wales, Minister, has potential to regenerate not only Ebbw Vale, but large parts of south-east Wales. Could you outline what discussions you’ve had with Cabinet colleagues to bring financing this project to an end?
 
14:01
Jane HuttBiography
Well, a very constructive discussion and negotiation is continuing.
 
14:02
Aled RobertsBiography
I don’t know whether you are aware, but some minutes ago, it became evident that the UK Government has stated that they will undertake a review of tidal lagoons across the whole of the UK. Considering the fact that there is a possibility of having a tidal lagoon in north Wales, notwithstanding the future of the Swansea lagoon, do you share with me the disappointment of seeing the UK Government turning their backs on renewable energy, which impacts not only on investment here in Wales but on jobs for our people in Wales?
 
14:02
Jane HuttBiography
Aled Roberts, you’re quite right. We have noted the UK Government’s decision to establish a UK energy review. It’s not reporting until autumn, and we are disappointed that this initiative could potentially add a further delay to the Swansea tidal lagoon.
 
The Natural Resources Portfolio
 
14:03
William PowellBiography
7. Will the Minister make a statement on the funding allocation to the Natural Resources portfolio in the 2016-17 draft budget? OAQ(4)0668(FIN)
 
14:03
Jane HuttBiography
As set out in the draft budget, ‘Fairer, Better Wales’, the proposed budget for the natural resources portfolio next year stands at £367 million.
 
14:03
William PowellBiography
Minister, during a recent environment committee budget scrutiny session I asked the Minister what assessment had been made of the level of EU-sourced funds dedicated both to flood alleviation but also to coastal management schemes, and he’s kindly undertaken to report back to committee on that shortly. Given the growing threat of a potential Brexit later this year, what contingency plans does the Welsh Government have in place to actually supply the funding necessary to continue with this valuable work, should we make that disastrous decision?
 
14:04
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I think it’s worth, again, repeating the fact—and this is for the record, in terms of the importance of the European Union—that since 2011, we’ve committed almost £300 million, including European funding, to managing flood risk and an additional £150 million, which we’re investing into the future. It’s quite clear that this shows how Wales benefits significantly from being part of the EU. Of course, we have always maintained, as you know, as the Welsh Government, that a UK exit would be bad for the economy, the Labour market and the environment in Wales.
 
14:04
Janet HaworthBiography
Minister, I was pleased to hear that Conway county’s bid for assistance from the flood recovery fund has been successful. Conway county are keen to continue preparation of flood prevention plans, but to proceed with this, they need the Natural Resources Wales reports to be completed to inform this work. Minister, can you ensure that NRW will have the budget available to them to complete this important work, and, Minister, can you offer a guarantee today, Minister, that further funds will be made available from this Welsh Government’s reserves to support this important and urgent work?
 
14:05
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I think, Janet Haworth, that perhaps I could just assure you—and I thought you would have understood this—that once a bid has been accepted, then the money will come.
 
14:05
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Natural Resources Wales is facing a significant cut in its budget once again this year, despite the obvious challenges posed by climate change and flooding. Now, in deciding upon your budget for next year, was any assessment made of the additional cost implications that have been identified because of new legislation: the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Bill?
 
14:06
Jane HuttBiography
Well, just looking at the budget for Natural Resources Wales, for the main expenditure group, the Minister’s whole portfolio, if you look at revenue and capital together, is going to be £9 million higher than the 2015-16 baseline of £357 million. It’s clear that we have cushioned the impact of revenue reductions with a capital increase—which is key and very important, just in terms of infrastructure investment, as we’ve just been talking about, in terms of flood prevention—of £26 million, which is a 41 per cent uplift. And let’s just look at things that we are supporting with Natural Resources Wales: £3 million for the St Asaph flood-risk management scheme to reduce risk along the River Elwy and protect over 400 properties; £5 million for the coastal risk-management programme for preparatory work; £8 million for Warm Homes; and £10 million for ‘Green Growth Wales: Local Energy’—and that’s going to increase and accelerate projects to deliver green investment in Wales. So, of course, this is all in support of natural resources, and Natural Resources Wales is involved in implementing those new developments.
 
The Education and Skills Portfolio
 
14:07
Julie MorganBiography
8. What priorities were considered by the Welsh Government when allocating funding to the Education and Skills portfolio? OAQ(4)0662(FIN)
 
14:07
Jane HuttBiography
Our spending plans reflect our priority of raising standards and continuing the new momentum in Welsh education.
 
14:07
Julie MorganBiography
I thank the Minister for that response, and I welcomed very much the written announcement today that £85 million in funding is being allocated to education and training programmes for healthcare professionals—and I think that includes nurses, physiotherapists and clinical scientists and a number of other people. Does the Minister agree that it’s very important that we do have this increase in numbers, in order that we can cope with the needs of some of the very frail, elderly people who we now have to care for in the hospitals, and that the 10 per cent increase in nurses will be very welcome?
 
14:08
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Julie Morgan for that question because the £85 million package that was announced today by the Minister for Health and Social Services will support that range, as Julie Morgan has said, of education and training programmes for healthcare professionals—including nurses, physiotherapists and radiographers—in a range of health science training opportunities.
 
14:08
Angela BurnsBiography
Minister, over the next five to 10 years, there are going to be seismic changes in education, such as the curriculum review. In order for those changes to be successful, there will need to be significant resources put in place—not just people, but funds. What I’d like to know is: when are you planning to start accruing funds within the portfolio to support those changes as they come through, and what order of magnitude do you think those funds will need to be?
 
14:09
Jane HuttBiography
Well, throughout the term of this Government, we’ve protected school funding by 1 per cent above the overall change to the Wales departmental expenditure limit, and this uplift will continue in 2016-17, with an extra £39.7 million in front-line funding for schools to help pupils in Wales to achieve their maximum potential.
 
14:09
Simon ThomasBiography
Minister, I welcome the fact that there was a reversal yesterday in the budget of the proposed cut to higher education in Wales. Obviously, you’ve had evidence in the budget consultation process about the impact of that cut, and the need for the Welsh Government to close that gap. However, at least £20 million of the money that you’re not now cutting was dedicated to the tuition fee policy, which is a demand-led policy, and you have no control over that demand. Could you confirm, therefore, for the Assembly, where the money has come from in other portfolios that you’ve clearly had to add in now to the education and skills portfolio to close that cut that you announced yesterday?
 
14:10
Jane HuttBiography
The money came from reserves.
 
Procurement Powers
 
14:10
Joyce WatsonBiography
9. Will the Minister provide an update on the opportunities provided by the impending new procurement powers? OAQ(4)0666(FIN)
 
14:10
Jane HuttBiography
The first area for regulation will be community benefits, helping to boost the economy through creating jobs and tackling poverty, and work is in hand to identify how regulation will drive adoption of Wales’s procurement policy.
 
14:10
Joyce WatsonBiography
I thank you very much for that, Minister. You’ve rightly put a big emphasis on how these powers can deliver community benefits. That is something that the cross-party construction group has focused on as well, as you, indeed, are aware of, having taken part in the process. But the Wales TUC has also done good work around how public spending projects can support local jobs. Can I ask you, Minister, when we move forward with those powers, whether you’ll bring updates to the Chamber?
 
14:11
Jane HuttBiography
I’ve answered a question earlier on this afternoon on the point about our new powers. You will have welcomed the fact that we now have that designation Order that I negotiated with the UK Government. We have new regulating powers, and the first area that we’re developing in terms of regulation is community benefits. So, just in terms of our Better Jobs, Closer to Home project, which of course was championed by the Wales TUC, I already have a working group that’s been set up, and it’s already identifying suitable contracts, for example, to be delivered by employment hubs. There’s an options appraisal of those hubs, and we’re looking at those new regulatory powers, again, and how we can develop a definition of ‘disadvantaged worker’ so as to maximise the benefit realised from this project.
 
14:12
Nick RamsayBiography
Minister, can I echo the earlier comments in a question of Bethan Jenkins that the news over the last few weeks has been dominated by the contraction of the steel industry, particularly in Port Talbot? How do you intend to make sure that the new procurement powers are used to ensure that more Welsh steel is used in public sector construction projects in Wales, and, more generally, how do you envisage the new powers being used to support home-grown manufacturing in general?
 
14:12
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I have answered those questions quite fully this afternoon. Again, there’s the steel taskforce that has a procurement pipeline and procurement working group, and also the work that we’re doing with the UK Government in terms of their steel procurement taskforce, and the Welsh Government playing a leading role in terms of adopting these policies.
 
‘Fairer, Better Wales—Investing for the Future’
 
14:13
William GrahamBiography
10. Will the Minister make a statement on the objectives of ‘Fairer, Better Wales–Investing for the Future’? OAQ(4)0663(FIN)
 
14:13
Jane HuttBiography
Well, ‘Fairer, Better Wales—Investing for the Future’ provides the foundations for ensuring the economic, social, environmental and cultural wellbeing for our own and future generations in Wales.
 
14:13
William GrahamBiography
I’m grateful to the Minister for her answer. Could she outline how that mirrors or replicates invest-to-save, which equally is a successful policy?
 
14:13
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I’m grateful that William Graham, the Member, recognises the importance and the impact of invest-to-save. With invest-to-save, of course, in terms of every pound invested, £3 is returned. Invest-to-save is, of course, about innovation, but it’s also about energy efficiency, it’s about collaboration, and it’s about recycling of funding in an innovative way.
 
Capital Projects
 
14:14
Angela BurnsBiography
11. Will the Minister make a statement on capital projects in west Wales? OAQ(4)0664(FIN)
 
14:14
Jane HuttBiography
The Wales infrastructure investment plan pipeline provides details of our current and planned capital projects across all parts of Wales, including west Wales, and I published an updated pipeline last week.
 
14:14
Angela BurnsBiography
Minister, I would be interested to understand how your department looks at lost opportunity costs, and what evaluation is made of them when you’re looking at capital projects. So, for example, the A40 is a capital project that’s had delay after delay. I know it is now coming downstream, but, nonetheless, over the last five years, there have been significant lost opportunity costs on that particular project. So, what evaluation do you make of it, and how do you monitor these lost opportunities?
 
14:14
Jane HuttBiography
Well, we have seven investment priorities for the Wales infrastructure investment plan, but faced with a 30 per cent cut to our capital programme by the UK Government, of course then we have to ensure that we’re funding the priorities in terms of the infrastructure investment plan.
 
14:15
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
2. Questions to the Minister for Public Services
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:15
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 2, which is questions to the Minister for Public Services. Question 1 is Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
Armed Forces Veterans
 
14:15
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
1. Will the Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for Armed Forces veterans? OAQ(4)0673(PS)
 
14:15
Leighton AndrewsBiographyThe Minister for Public Services
Llywydd, we are committed to supporting both serving members and ex-members of the armed forces in Wales. Our package of support sets out how the Welsh Government supports armed forces veterans in Wales.
 
14:15
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Thank you, Minister, for that answer. I recently visited Change Step in Cardiff, which is a veterans-led organisation that offers to give support in the community to veterans who experience, in particular, mental health issues. One of the examples of the work that was led there was how this is a veterans-led organisation, so there is an understanding of the complex issues that many people present when looking for support. But, the armed forces in their make-up are very diverse today. In particular, many young female recruits are now entering the armed forces. What assessment have you made, Minister, of the support the Welsh Government is able to provide to work with armed forces charities to make sure that support represents the diversity of veterans who are leaving the armed forces and meets the needs of that diverse group of individuals?
 
14:16
Leighton AndrewsBiography
The Member is right to stress the value of veterans-led charities and third sector organisations. There are many of them, of course, and indeed organisations such as the Royal British Legion have veterans at their head in Wales. It’s important that we, within the package of support, are able to reflect the diverse needs of the armed forces community and he’s right to raise that. I’m certainly happy that, as we carry forward our review of the armed forces package for Wales, we refresh it with a view to ensuring that all groups who leave the armed forces are served well by it.
 
14:17
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, the Ministry of Defence is clearly aware of the date when military personnel end their service to their country. But, I don’t think it’s right that the Welsh Government should pick up many of the tabs, as clearly they are doing. What pressure can you bring, as Minister, to ensure that there is better liaison between the DWP, local authorities and health authorities to, at the very least, ensure that people have access to decent homes, jobs and health services?
 
14:17
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Let me start by saying I think there’s very good liaison between the Welsh Government and the armed forces. The First Minister and I met the chief of general staff this morning and we discussed a number of issues related to this agenda. I think the armed forces are very pleased with the successes that we’ve been able to make in Wales in terms of our investment in our armed forces package, but also the way in which we engage with them and with many other different agencies through the armed forces expert group, which I chair. That brings together both devolved and non-devolved services on a regular basis. The Ministry of Defence, I think, is aware, for example, of our success in Wales in promoting the defence privilege card and the way in which we collaborated with them in the advertising of that card to boost its take-up here in Wales. I think there may be issues in respect of data sharing. Increasingly, those kind of data sharing challenges are being overcome. Obviously, if there are specific issues that the Member is aware of, I invite him to write to me about them.
 
14:18
William PowellBiography
Minister, Glyndŵr University in Wrexham has recently embarked upon a two-year research project to explore the specific difficulties experienced by ex-servicewomen and ex-servicemen in the transition back to civilian life. Given that much of the evidence around those difficulties is currently anecdotal, I feel that this research could be of significant benefits. Are you prepared to consider the findings when they become available forming part of the refresh that you referred to in an earlier answer?
 
14:19
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I’m very happy to do so. I think that quite a lot of work has been done, actually, on a more-than-anecdotal basis, let me say, by third sector organisations and by statutory organisations. There’s been some excellent work undertaken, for example, within the prison service, within the national offender management service, in addition to our own devolved services. But, certainly, I’d be very happy to look at any evidence that is brought forward by that academic review.
 
Domestic Abuse
 
14:19
Mohammad AsgharBiography
2. What plans does the Welsh Government have to increase support for victims of domestic abuse in Wales? OAQ(4)0663(PS)
 
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s strategy for domestic violence? OAQ(4)0677(PS)[W]
 
14:19
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Llywydd, I understand that you’ve given your permission for questions 2 and 5 to be grouped. The implementation of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 will improve prevention, support and protection for victims of domestic abuse in Wales. The draft budget proposes an increase in the budget for this area of work.
 
14:20
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you for that reply, Minister. Refuges provide a vital package of support for women and children living in fear of domestic abuse or violence. Welsh Women’s Aid has expressed concern that such life-saving services do not have sustainable funding to protect and support the most vulnerable women and children in Wales. Will the Minister commit to sufficiently funding women’s refuges and providing them with a sustainable funding model?
 
14:20
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, this was an item that was discussed in the violence against women expert group last week, and Welsh Women’s Aid were present. There are some issues around the sustainability of some refuge services. Of course, funding for those comes from a variety of sources, including local government, but also from other Welsh Government budgets, such as those held by my colleague the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty. I think what is important is that we move to a sustainable basis for the future and also a basis that reflects the entirety of need across Wales. I think that some of the services that have developed have not necessarily developed on the most planned basis possible, and that’s why we’re engaged in mapping the availability of services across Wales at the present time.
 
14:21
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
In the Finance Committee, Women’s Aid said that 250 women had been rejected from refuges in Wales last year because of a lack of capacity, and they expressed concern that the funding that they receive locally in order to maintain these refuges is being cut for next year because of the pressures on local government, for one thing. You’ve just referred to the fact that we need to create a system that is sustainable for the future. Well, what sort of system could that be if the picture on the ground shows that some refuges could close, according to the evidence of Women’s Aid?
 
14:22
Leighton AndrewsBiography
As I said, we discussed this with Welsh Women’s Aid last week, and let me say that I made it clear to third sector organisations that their budgets would be maintained for the next financial year. The issue, I think, is one worthy of wider consideration, however, because I do think that the provision across Wales does not necessarily meet need, and I think there are areas of Wales where those services are not currently available. That’s why we want to look at this more systematically, and certainly we will be gathering evidence to support that systematic look with the assistance of my ministerial adviser—sorry, with the assistance of the national adviser on violence against women.
 
14:23
Jeff CuthbertBiography
Minister, responding to domestic abuse is an important area of work for the police service in Wales, in partnership with other statutory and voluntary organisations. Regrettably, the Tory UK Government has slashed funding for the police over the last five years, as well as for public services generally. Do you agree with me, Minister, that whilst we in Wales will do our very best to support this vital work, victims of domestic abuse in Wales are not helped by the Tory UK Government’s continued austerity programme?
 
14:23
Leighton AndrewsBiography
My colleague the Member for Caerphilly is absolutely right to point to the cuts in spending on police that have been undertaken by the UK Government. He may be present later—I think the Police Federation has an event in the Senedd this evening, and no doubt we will hear further from them about some of the challenges that the police service is facing. I’m pleased that, as a Government, we have invested in the programme of police community support officers, so that there are 500 more police community support officers in Wales than would otherwise have been the case. We’ve been investing in supporting our police while the UK Government has been cutting the funding to them.
 
14:24
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, preventing young women and men falling into manipulative and unhealthy relationships is surely key to making sure that we can reduce the harm that domestic violence does in our society. I wonder what progress has been made since the completion of the violence against women Act towards developing a curriculum and support materials for teachers, so that they can take forward this agenda within their personal and social education lessons.
 
14:24
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Yes, indeed. We held an event in the autumn, at which I spoke and the Minister for Education and Skills spoke. It was a very well-attended event held, if I remember rightly, in the SSE SWALEC stadium. We had representatives of a wide variety of organisations who work with young people, as well as people from within the education service. There were many teachers there who take an active interest in this area, and I thought the discussions on that day were very valuable and will inform our work going forward.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
14:25
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party spokespeople, and first this afternoon is the Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Janet Finch-Saunders.
 
14:25
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, I hope, like me, that you are delighted by the news of the mayor for Cardiff campaign—a move that could see our first democratically and directly elected mayor here in Wales. This, of course, would bring forward full democratic participation, true community engagement and absolute democratic accountability. I am personally pleased about such an initiative going forward, and it comes with cross-party support, and I wish them all the best with this campaign. Do you?
 
14:26
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, I’m very interested; I wasn’t aware that the Welsh Conservatives now wanted to see elected mayors in the place of all local authorities. That may come as news to some of their serving councillors, I suspect. Let me say that there is a campaign, I understand, in Cardiff. They have a threshold to reach before they can take forward their plans. We’ll wait and see if they reach that threshold.
 
14:26
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you, Minister. [Interruption.]
 
14:26
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order.
 
14:26
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Now, of course, following the Localism Act 2011, referendums were held in 10 English cities for directly elected mayors. There are now 17 such mayors in England, with more on the way in greater Manchester, Liverpool city region, Sheffield city region, the north-east of England, Tees valley and the west midlands. Clearly, there is popular support for such an accountable and democratic representative. It’s vital that the residents of Cardiff have their say on whether they will have such a representative, yet the campaign here in Wales has to gain 10 per cent as opposed to 5 per cent over the border. Minister, as part of your local government reform, will you address this to ensure that our people do have that choice and that freedom? And considering local government reform is in such chaos at the moment, isn’t this a good initiative for you to get behind?
 
14:27
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, the Conservatives, of course, control one local authority in Wales. I assume, therefore, that they will be bringing forward proposals for a mayor of Monmouthshire in due course. Perhaps we will look to see those. I wasn’t aware that they were planning to replace Councillor Peter Fox in that way.
 
14:27
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Well, moving on, Minister, Welsh Conservatives have advocated the freezing of council tax, particularly so for the three years where adequate funding came across from the UK Government. Plaid Cymru and Labour-led Conwy County Borough Council are now proposing to move towards a four-weekly bin collection, the first in Wales, whilst at the same time proposing yet another 5 per cent council tax increase. Minister, are you proud of the legacy under Welsh Labour that our residents pay more and get less?
 
14:28
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Residents in Wales pay, on average, £157 a year less in council tax than residents in England. In England, this next financial year will see cuts to council budgets of double the cuts that councils in Wales are having to undergo, even if you take into account the bung that was given to the Conservative-led south-east of England councils yesterday by the UK Conservative Government. And what do we see in England as well? They’ve tried to bribe councils into holding council tax freezes, but 50 per cent of them, including dozens of English Conservative councils, will not implement that council tax freeze policy.
 
14:29
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Oh, maybe they’ve learnt from this Government then.
 
14:29
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
14:29
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, further to the question that Alun Ffred Jones asked in terms of domestic abuse, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the evidence that Welsh Women’s Aid gave to the Finance Committee at the beginning of January regarding this issue. They told the committee that they know of 284 women who were turned away from refuges in Wales last year because there was no space, and 161 women in Wales couldn’t be accommodated in refuges for the same reason. Minister, given that a lot of these services are commissioned by local government as opposed to the Welsh Government, can I ask how your review is going to be addressing those particular issues?
 
14:30
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I think the point has already been made by the Member for Arfon, in an earlier question. And, as I said to him, we’ve discussed these issues in the violence against women expert group just last week, with Welsh Women’s Aid. I want the national adviser for violence against women to look at these issues with the third sector organisations. I think it’s fair to say that refuges have not grown up on a planned basis across Wales, and the distribution of them is variable. It’s important we move to better planning of those resources, and that’s what we’re engaged with at the present time.
 
14:30
Peter BlackBiography
Well, thank you for that answer, Minister. That’s very helpful. I think that part of the problem is the way these services are commissioned. I’m interested in your approach to this through your national adviser. Are you suggesting that, in future, you’re looking at a centrally commissioned process around Wales, or are you looking to work with local government and the third sector and health services to try to rationalise the services they provide?
 
14:30
Leighton AndrewsBiography
We’re certainly looking, in due course, to move to a more of a regional commissioning model, and work is already under way in that regard in Gwent, for example. That will involve engagement, let me say, between ourselves, local government, the health service, and third sector organisations. We will seek to move out more of a regional commissioning model across Wales, probably more towards the beginning of the 2017-18 financial year, looking at the experience that we have from what has been undertaken in Gwent.
 
14:31
Peter BlackBiography
That’s very helpful. The other issue that Welsh Women’s Aid raised with the committee was the inconsistency within Welsh Government itself. I mean, you obviously have oversight of this issue, but they referred to other departments in the Assembly to take account of these issues, such as economic development. I’m just wondering what cross-cutting work is going on within the Welsh Government to try to get a more coordinated approach to these issues of domestic violence in all departments.
 
14:31
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, the Act that we passed, obviously, lies on the entire Government, and there is a responsibility across the entire Government. The principal budgets for this do fall to myself and the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, and, obviously, these are issues that we have discussed, including looking at the regional commissioning model between our departments. But there is regular dialogue between officials on these issues.
 
14:32
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Simon Thomas.
 
14:32
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and I’m staying with the issue of domestic violence, Minister. You were very clear in answering questions earlier, saying that the Welsh Government doesn’t intend to cut the funding provided for these services. But, of course, a number of questions have been raised about cuts at a local level. Have you had, or have you sought, assurances from local authorities that they don’t intend to make any cuts to these services during the next financial year?
 
14:32
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Yes, we’ve been very clear to local government that these are important services. Obviously, I’ve protected—well, I’ve more than protected—the budget; in fact, we’ve added to the budget for the next financial year. As we move to a regional commissioning model, I think that will give us a better planning focus for the provision of services in the future. And, certainly, we are well aware of the issues that are being raised by Welsh Women’s Aid, and, indeed, discussed them just last week.
 
14:33
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you for that response. You’ve already mentioned this regional commissioning, and, in response to Peter Black, you specifically spoke of the 2017-18 financial year, and that, of course, is when the violence against women Act will come into force in full in terms of the intention to introduce statutory guidance on the provision of services. Can you confirm, therefore, that it is your intention to take the statutory guidance along with the provision of services and the funding available? That’s to say that we could expect to see what you’ve just outlined in the Chamber being put in place during that financial year, with the support of statutory guidance.
 
14:34
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, I think the answer is, broadly, ‘yes’ to the question he’s asked. Just to explain: clearly, we have the regional commissioning model already in operation in Gwent, and we’re learning from that. I looked at the possibility of making this happen faster, but that would have meant a very difficult transition for all third sector organisations that are currently running some of those services, which would have had greater uncertainty for the next financial year, as it were. So, I think we’ve got to move to this on a phased basis, but I think there’s no reason why, as we develop the guidance, that shouldn’t also inform some of the funding judgments that we need to make.
 
14:34
Simon ThomasBiography
Well, thank you, Minister, and to move to something slightly different, as they say, you’ll remember Michael Gove. [Laughter.] He and the Prime Minister have said something quite interesting, I think, around prison reform over the last few days, something that, perhaps, you might be interested, and I’m certainly interested, to see whether we can make use of here in Wales, because if we’re going to move to a reforming prison system then some questions arise about the superprison in Wrexham and whether that’s actually fit for purpose. But questions also arise about how we deal with women in our judicial system and young offenders, which I know you’re particularly interested in and concerned about. What opportunity do you think you now have to re-engage with Michael Gove in developing a distinct Welsh approach to female and young offenders in Wales?
 
14:35
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Llywydd, Michael Gove phoned me yesterday—[Laughter.]—to discuss the report that was published yesterday, the interim review on youth offending, and we had an initial conversation about some of the implications of that for Wales. That review, of course, raises the possibility that, as the review progresses, it will consider the devolution of budgets and commissioning to Wales. That is something, clearly, we would like to engage with and we will be taking forward.
 
14:36
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Question 3 [OAQ(4)0675(PS)] will not be asked this afternoon.
 
Local Government Funding
 
14:36
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
4. Will the Minister make a statement on local government funding in Wales? OAQ(4)0678(PS)
 
14:36
Leighton AndrewsBiography
The majority of the funding provided to local government by the Welsh Government is delivered through the revenue settlement. I announced the provisional settlement for 2016-17 on 9 December. The average reduction of 1.4 per cent was considerably better than was anticipated.
 
14:36
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
Thank you for that answer. Minister, will you agree with me that the improved settlement will give Welsh councils the opportunity to protect the vulnerable’s access to services like social care and this is in direct contrast to the huge cuts in England?
 
14:36
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Yes, indeed, and my colleague the Member for Islwyn is quite right to raise this question and I know that he will be working with his colleagues in Caerphilly to ensure that services that are provided, such as social care, are protected at a local level. We have protected the funding for local government in Wales over the course of this Assembly term. This means that local government in Wales has not been subject to the level of cuts experienced by councils in England.
 
14:37
Russell GeorgeBiography
Minister, the direction from the Welsh Government to local authorities is to protect social services and education budgets. Clearly, these are local authorities’ largest budget areas. As a result of the large amount of savings that have to be made in other areas, and given the fact that a large amount of savings would have already been made from those areas, can I ask you how sustainable you think this is?
 
14:37
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, Llywydd, I’m disappointed that as the Member is a member of Powys County Council he didn’t start by welcoming the additional money found by the finance Minister for his local authority. I think that would have been generous of him to have done so, but he didn’t. We have made additional money available to that local authority. We’ve also made additional money available in respect, of course, across the piece, of social services, and we’ve honoured throughout the lifetime of this Assembly our commitment to ensure that local government benefits by additional school spending 1 per cent above the money we get from the UK Government for education.
 
14:38
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Question 5 was grouped with question 2, so we now move to question 6, which is Keith Davies.
 
The Local Government Settlement for 2016-17
 
14:38
Keith DaviesBiography
6. Will the Minister provide an update on the impact of the local government settlement for 2016-17 on public services in Wales? OAQ(4)0666(PS)[W]
 
14:38
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I announced the provisional settlement for 2016-17 on 9 December. The average reduction of 1.4 per cent was considerably better than was anticipated.
 
14:39
Keith DaviesBiography
Thank you, Minister. I’d like to welcome the commitment shown by the Welsh Labour Government to schools by providing an increase of 1 per cent for school budgets in the local government settlement in Wales. However, in Carmarthenshire, the administration led by Plaid Cymru is planning their draft budget to cut budgets for schools by £3.6 million in real terms. Do you agree with me that Plaid Cymru is letting our young people down in Carmarthenshire?
 
Well, can I say to my colleague the Member for Llanelli, obviously, the settlement that we have provided reflects our commitment to protect schools funding to ensure the delivery of the best outcomes for Welsh children? I’d be very disappointed if any local authority was not passing that money straight on to the schools in their area and I’m sure that if my colleague the Member for Llanelli thinks there are specific problems in Carmarthenshire he will want to draw them to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills.
 
14:40
Suzy DaviesBiography
Minister, despite a favourable settlement and a rumoured council tax rise of around 5 per cent, Swansea council are considering cutting £400,000 from residential placements for children, £97,000 from libraries, and £90,000 from the Wales National Pool and National Waterfront Museum. This is the council, you remember, which failed to apply for a second tranche of discretionary housing payments, and returned almost £1 million as it was unable to spend it on reducing poverty. It’s your Government’s view that both appropriate care and contact with heritage and sport improve a child’s life chances, so how do you ensure that local authorities, in making their savings choices, don’t undermine your Government’s policy objectives?
 
14:40
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, we don’t dictate to local government as to how they spend the money they receive from the Welsh Government. We do not allocate hypothecated budgets. I think all local authorities are clear of their statutory responsibilities and of the expectations that this Welsh Government has of them. I would say that these are difficult times for all councils in Wales, whatever their political hue, and all councils are facing very difficult challenges because of the cuts imposed by the UK Conservative Government.
 
The Trade Union Bill
 
14:41
David ReesBiography
7. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s opposition to the UK Government’s Trade Union Bill? OAQ(4)00668(PS)
 
14:41
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I wrote to the Minister, Nick Boles, following this Assembly’s decision to withhold legislative consent. I’ve subsequently had a telephone conversation with him. The UK Government is clearly aware of the National Assembly’s opposition to the Bill.
 
14:41
David ReesBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister, and, before I ask my question, I want to put on record my membership of Unite the Union, and my former role as a University and College Union lay officer for the trade union. Following yesterday’s questions to the First Minister on this matter, it’s clear that the Tory Ministers and Government lawyers in the UK Government are at odds with one another regarding the impact of the Bill here in Wales. Minister, I’m sure you agree with me that the role of trade unions is critical in ensuring that employees are supported and protected from challenges to their rights and safe working, amongst many other things. This is clearly an ideological attack on trade unions by the Tories to ensure that those positions are weakened. Will you continue to remind UK Tories that, in fact, this does not apply here in Wales, and that this Assembly has made a strong statement where we oppose the imposition of a trade union Bill on our public sector workers?
 
14:42
Leighton AndrewsBiography
My colleague the Member for Aberavon is absolutely right to put this question in those terms. I think, as we are now clear, the UK Government has legal advice on this Bill that makes it clear that it has a very weak case to legislate in respect of public services in Wales. The First Minister, of course, explained our position on this just yesterday. I know that amendments are being pursued in the House of Lords to raise the concerns of the Welsh Government, and they will no doubt be raised subsequently, and I will be giving evidence to the House of Lords committee tomorrow on this matter. But let me make it clear: if the UK Government does go ahead and try to legislate in respect of Wales, we will work on a Welsh Bill, in the next Assembly, to legislate quickly to rescind the key provisions of the Trade Union Bill as they affect Wales.
 
14:43
William GrahamBiography
Would the Minister not agree with me that this Bill is, in fact, a wonderful measure in enshrining the individual rights of trade union members in agreeing or not agreeing to have a strike? It is the first time that this legislation actually proposes that, where every member’s vote counts, and, if the Minister is so concerned about the provisions of this Bill, perhaps it might become an amendment to the current Wales Bill.
 
14:44
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I think you have to ask what problem the Bill is trying to solve. Where are the junior doctors on strike today? In England, not in Wales. We do not have an issue on public sector strikes here in Wales. This is not, to use the Member’s phrase ‘a wonderful measure’. Indeed, even UK Government lawyers clearly don’t think it’s a wonderful measure, because they are very clear that they’re on very weak ground when it comes to Wales.
 
14:44
Bethan JenkinsBiography
I wanted to start where you left off, Minister, because one element of that letter states that there needs to be further withdrawal in Wales and Scotland in terms of the views of the Governments there and the Parliament here. So, what discussions have you had in that regard, and what discussions have you had with trade unions that say that the conventions in that letter don’t go far enough?
 
14:45
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, as I said in my earlier answer, I spoke to the relevant UK Minister on Friday. I have had regular meetings with the trade unions and met with the Wales TUC and their legal adviser in the last fortnight, certainly. I’ve had other meetings with trade unions and I’ve had discussions with other representatives in Westminster who take a dim view of the Trade Union Bill’s provisions. We are very clear in our opposition to that Bill, and we will sustain that opposition and, if necessary, reverse the provisions of the Trade Union Bill, should it be passed by Westminster in its current form.
 
The Future of the Fire Services
 
14:45
Ann JonesBiography
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the future of fire services in Wales? OAQ(4)0664(PS)
 
14:45
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I’m committed to maintaining the fire and rescue service’s proud record of keeping people and communities safe.
 
14:45
Ann JonesBiography
Thank you very much for that answer, Minister. Can I seek assurances from you on behalf of the fire services in Wales that you will not allow police and crime commissioners to take over the running of the fire services here in Wales?
 
14:46
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I can absolutely confirm that we will not be allowing the police and crime commissioners to run fire services in Wales. The UK Government’s proposals would imperil the fire services’ arson reduction and community engagement work, they would subject a devolved public service to non-devolved control and would yield no financial savings. They have nothing to commend them at all and they will not happen here.
 
14:46
Angela BurnsBiography
In the 2016-17 budget, the combined line for fire and rescue services has fallen by 8.8 per cent over the two separate budget lines for fire and rescue resilience and fire and rescue framework. If you marry that with the council tax harmonisation project, which could take local authorities up to nine years to implement and which would also have consequential impacts on fire and rescue authorities, fire services will come under immense pressure. What, Minister, will you do to ensure that fire services such as mid and west Wales are not further jeopardised by these reductions and people’s lives put at risk?
 
14:47
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, we’ve been able to provide, in the last financial year, mid and west Wales with additional funding, for example, to buy a drone. So, we’ve been very receptive to requests for further assistance from fire and rescue authorities. I think it’s important that she looks carefully at the budget, because I was scrutinised on this in the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee and I had to explain some of the changes that have been made. We are confident that the fire and rescue authorities are well resourced. We are pleased with their success in reducing the number of fires over recent years, and they have a very active engagement with the community safety agenda, which we welcome.
 
14:48
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
I had an excellent meeting with fire officers in Holyhead recently. They are entirely committed to their work, but it is a cause of concern for them, as it is for me, that the recruitment problem in terms of retained firefighters does create very real problems in terms of providing cover in rural areas such as Ynys Môn. Does the Minister therefore agree that recruitment exercises need to concentrate on the truly local and emphasise that retained firefighters do provide a crucial service for their own communities?
 
14:48
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I endorse what the Member has said in respect of the important role played by retained firefighters in stations such as Holyhead, but let me say that there has been an all-Wales recruitment exercise by the fire and rescue authorities combined over recent months, and they’ve had a very high level of applicants for that. In fact, it’s well exceeded the number of vacancies that were available. So, I’m confident that the recruitment that is being undertaken by the fire and rescue service is delivering what is necessary.
 
14:49
Aled RobertsBiography
Minister, the consultation by north Wales fire authority makes it clear, apart from the recruitment process that you’ve just alluded to, that, by now, only nine fire brigades, or engines, within north Wales are staffed by full-time officers. Because of that, they say that they’re moving away from the retained fire officer model to a situation where they look at contracted fire officers. They would be on a full contract but on a part time basis. Is that a pattern that will have to be considered across the whole of Wales, bearing in mind that it appears from the consultation that this problem with retained firefighters is one that is on the increase?
 
14:50
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, I think these decisions overall are matters for the fire and rescue authorities. So, in respect of north Wales, North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority needs to make the right decisions to support the staffing of the stations within its own region. I think, as I’ve said, there has been a recruitment exercise undertaken by the three fire and rescue authorities in Wales, and that has clearly been very well supported and they’ve had a very high number of applicants for that recruitment exercise.
 
Community Safety
 
14:50
Altaf HussainBiography
9. What actions is the Welsh Government taking to improve community safety in Wales? OAQ(4)0669(PS)
 
14:50
Leighton AndrewsBiography
As part of our work on community safety, we have provided funding for an additional 500 community support officers in Wales.
 
14:51
Altaf HussainBiography
Minister, unless we have fully integrated communities, community safety and community cohesion is at risk. Part and parcel of a truly integrated community is respect for the laws of the United Kingdom and respect for those who police those laws. What action is the Welsh Government taking to promote respect for the police across all communities in Wales?
 
14:51
Nick RamsayBiography
Hear, hear. Good question.
 
14:51
Leighton AndrewsBiography
It’s an important question. We do, obviously, work very closely with the police and I think they themselves are engaged in a wide range of community cohesion activities. I think, for example, just to illustrate, in recent months, along with the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, we’ve been looking at issues around countering extremism; we’ve been looking at addressing issues such as Islamophobia in Wales. These are issues on which we’ve also had regular discussions with the police forces in Wales. I think they are very sensitive to those issues in how they are taken forward across all communities in Wales, recognising that we want to reflect the diversity of our communities in Wales, but we also want to ensure we do have community cohesion. The police are very active as well, let me say, in targeting those right-wing extremists who would do serious damage to the diversity of our communities in Wales.
 
14:52
John GriffithsBiography
Minister, would you join me in applauding the mosque open day series of events that took place just last Sunday? I attended one in Newport along with the Presiding Officer and other prominent local politicians, and it was very encouraging to see different sections of the community coming together, learning more about the Muslim faith and developing relationships. Would you agree with me that it’s very important that Welsh Government continues to support that integration within our local communities?
 
14:53
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Yes, indeed. And, I’m well aware that not only colleagues from Newport attended those events, but many others did, and that they ran a series of successful events over the weekend to promote mosques. Let me say that my own department has been engaged, following discussions with the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, in looking at ways in which we can open up greater access from the Welsh Government and, indeed, from the National Assembly, to a wide variety of organisations within the Muslim faith. We’ve held break-out sessions recently in the National Assembly with up to 80 participants in different groups—young men, young women, older men and older women—and those have been very well engaged. The engagement has been excellent and I think it has given the Welsh Government a lot of ideas for future development.
 
14:54
Llyr GruffyddBiography
There are great concerns in the Wrexham area, Minister, about property and homes being the subject of arson. There have been 55 cases of setting fire to cars in Wrexham recently, and the police have admitted that they can’t get information from the community in some areas and that that hampers efforts to solve the problem. Would you, therefore, support the intention of the community council in Caia Park to offer a reward of £1,000 in order to catch one of these arsonists?
 
14:54
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, let me start by saying that arson is a crime that has a devastating effect on individuals and on communities in many cases. And arson itself has been the subject of a series of campaigns by all the fire and rescue authorities in Wales to seek diminution of cases occurring. I welcome attempts by local organisations to seek to work with the police to bring forward information on perpetrators.
 
The Local Government Formula
 
14:55
Mike HedgesBiography
10. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact that the Welsh local government formula has on the budget share for 2016-17? OAQ(4)0665(PS)
 
14:55